Interview: Ramon R Jimenez Jr
What potential does the recently signed Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) unlock for the tourism sector in Mindanao and the Visayas?
RAMON R JIMENEZ JR: The CAB will provide a tremendous boost to tourism, as a more peaceful and stable environment will enable Mindanao to attract a greater number of foreign and domestic tourists, while providing a significant boost to local job creation. After signing the CAB, stakeholders both from the private sector and the local government units (LGUs) have stepped up their own promotional efforts. For example, over the last year, a number of delegations from Mindanao have joined the DoT in travel exhibitions around the world. We are confident Mindanao will obtain a larger share of inbound traffic, as we convince network planners from foreign carriers in the region to start direct flight routes to Davao and other parts of the islands.
The extensive coverage of Typhoon Haiyan in the global media has also contributed to a greater level of awareness of the Philippines as a whole and Eastern Visayas in particular. As a result, we have seen the willingness of many foreigners to contribute to the extensive rehabilitation efforts in affected areas through phenomena such as “voluntourism”. Many tourists have also availed themselves of tour packages not only in affected areas but also to other destinations in the country, where a percentage of proceeds from tourism will go towards rehabilitation. The DoT’s goal is to accelerate the development of the Visayas by encouraging tourists to return to affected areas. Another initiative has been to encourage regional cruise companies to increase the number of stops in the Visayas.
How can the increased participation of LGUs help promote site-specific tourism in the Philippines?
JIMENEZ: The Philippines is an archipelago consisting of 7107 islands, and as such it contains an incredible amount of natural and cultural diversity. This has allowed us to provide a range of offers that can target different segments of the market, as seen in our already successful “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign. Indeed, there has been a natural transition from this campaign to our next phase of site-specific promotions, beginning with Boracay, Davao, Manila and Cebu.
Destination-specific campaigns have allowed for a greater degree of involvement by LGUs and the private sector, who have embraced these campaigns and enthusiastically participated in the promotion efforts. Ever since we started destination-specific marketing, we have found that LGUs and local executives have felt a deeper sense of ownership of tourism campaigns, as they provide an opportunity to reach out directly to the market and promote local areas. Most importantly, it then becomes incumbent upon the local community to make sure that tourism can flourish in a conductive environment, namely to address such vital issues as security, cleanliness and pricing.
What more can the Philippines do to improve its visibility as a meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) destination?
JIMENEZ: The MICE segment is higher yielding than the bulk of the tourism sector: as such, it represents a priority for the domestic development of tourism. In the Philippines, meetings, conventions and exhibitions tend to take place in larger cities such as Manila and Cebu, as this is where you are more likely to find large convention centres and the suitable infrastructure.
However, with regards to incentives, one finds that the incentive groups are going to locations such as Boracay, Bohol, Palawan and Davao. We have therefore segmented MICE and developed a strategy to tap into its markets. We must formulate a strategy that takes into account that the people who come to the Philippines for meetings, conventions and incentives may be looking for different attractions. For example, not all of them may require large facilities. Indeed, most groups are looking for a unique experience, which can only be found in such tourist destinations as the Chocolate Hills in Bohol or the Underground River in Palawan.
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